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Take the Second Path

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Rumplestiltskin appears on the balcony and it’s his moment – his grand entrance into this charming little drama - but his ironic amusement at the fact is cut short. The room is empty but for a broken mirror.

“Did you really think I wouldn’t notice?” Cora steps out of the shadows. “Careless of you, Rumple. I’d go so far as to say insulting.”

He’s wrong-footed for the first time in a long while. “I merely came to offer my congratulations. Where is the blushing bride?”

“I don’t know what you wanted with my daughter,” says Cora, not fooled by his claim, “but whatever it is, you won’t get it. She’s out of your reach.”

Rumple loses the pretence. He rushes forward in sudden rage: long, long held plans and visions shattering and raining down around him like the broken fragments of the mirror. “What have you done?”

“Dear me,” she says, raising her eyebrows in mild surprise. “It must have been important. Well, I’m sorry, but I have my own plans for my daughter and I’m not letting anyone interfere. Not even you, Rumple.”

Rumple glances around the room, holding in the anger in the hope of a clue, some way of putting events back on track. It can’t be that difficult, can it? He has destiny on his side. “And this isn’t disrupting them? Perhaps I’m confused, but I thought there was supposed to be a wedding.”

“A temporary set-back,” says Cora. “Just until I can ensure you leave her alone – one way or another.”

“Well, good luck with that, dearie,” he says, and then swings around to face her more closely again, baring his teeth. “It won’t work. I’ll find her. Where can you have hidden her? A tall tower, a lonely island, another world –?” Then he stops and watches her smile, trying to understand, to follow what magic might have been at work. “The sleeping curse?” He’s surprised again. “Isn’t that somewhat drastic?”

Cora is unperturbed. “As I’ve told you: it’s a temporary measure. I would never harm my daughter. This is merely by far the lesser of two evils.”

Rumple puts his hands to his chest as if she’s mortally wounded him. Then he takes a dancing step backwards. “I’d have thought that was a little unwise from someone who killed her one and only ‘true love’.”

“Her true love?” says Cora, and looks baffled for a minute. “You don’t mean the stable boy, do you? Oh, Rumple, as if he was the only one who loved my daughter – if he ever did at all.”

“But who else?” Rumple watches her. “The king doesn’t love her. He’s a good man, but he doesn’t love her. Or do you mean you? I think not.”

Cora is stung for the first time. “Of course I love my daughter! You don’t understand, do you?”

“No, no,” says Rumple, wagging a finger. “Not possible. Love without a heart? No, dearie. I haven’t forgotten. You took your heart out and put it in a box. You haven’t got what it takes. Literally.”

She holds her head higher. “You’re wrong. And if I need to, I know how to replace a heart – and pull it out again. I’ll do whatever is necessary.”

“Yes, you probably would,” he says, and then leaps forward, all ferocity and darkness now; a wounded beast, “but not if I get my hands on it first!”

*

It’s a long time, a very long time before anything or anyone reaches Regina again. The first thing that does is water on her face, her lips, drops falling into her parched throat. She sits up, opening her eyes and breathing in with a gasp.

“Hey, careful,” says someone beside her, who puts a hand to her arm.

Regina turns her head warily, ready to pull away, but it’s not her mother. The young woman sitting on the stone slab beside her isn’t anyone she knows. She’s wearing the sort of clothes Regina’s mother would disapprove of and call mannish, and her blonde hair is tied back into a lose tail. When she sees Regina staring at her, she gives her an encouraging smile.

Regina drops her head, colouring. Her mother also told her it was rude for a lady to stare, although that never counted if it was her mother doing the staring. Regina raises her head again, remembering that her mother isn’t here, and even if she were, she doesn’t deserve anything from Regina. Making her marry the king was one thing, cursing her was another. That had been for her own good too, apparently, but she hadn’t explained how or why. That was the last thing she recalled before the long, long time of – Regina shudders. She’d been shouting and begging her mother not to do this, but it wasn’t any use. It never had been.

“Are you all right?” asks the stranger. “It is Regina, isn’t it?”

She nods. “Yes. I think so. It’s just – my mother. If she’s anywhere around, we need to get out of here fast.”

“Oh,” says the other woman, and pulls a rueful face. “No, she’s not. You see, it’s, uh, been a long time. A very long time.”

Regina stares back at her, throwing etiquette right out the tower window where it belongs. “How long?” she asks, almost in a whisper. She’s no idea. From the way it felt under the curse, it could have been hours that seemed like eternity or a literal hundred years or more. It’s unnerving.

“I’m not sure exactly,” says the woman. “Thirty, forty years. I’m sorry.”

Regina takes time to assimilate that. “Then my mother – is my mother dead?” It’s unthinkable. Her world has always been shaped and dominated by Cora.

“A long time ago,” says her rescuer. “I am sorry.”

Regina puts a hand to her face, her emotions at war. For a moment, she’s only furiously, hatefully glad of the fact before even the relief of finally escaping takes hold. But under it all, despite everything, despite all her anger, the idea breaks her heart. Her mother is gone, and now she can’t criticise Regina or ruin her life, but she can’t ever give her the love and approval Regina craved.

“I probably should have found a better way to tell you,” says the other woman. “I’m Emma, by the way. I’ve been looking for you for quite a while.”

Regina turns her head back to Emma, puzzled. “But who are you? Why would you do that?”

“It’s a long story,” says Emma, putting her hand over Regina’s. “My mother’s always been set on finding you, but she’s got a kingdom to govern these days, so she kind of handed it down to me.” She smiles. “It’s been interesting. There was a whole thing with a magical compass and getting water from a lake that didn’t even exist any more.”

Regina stiffens, unsure how to respond to that; she’s a little offended, and there’s coldness in her words: “Well, I’m sorry if I’ve been a nuisance.”

“Hey, don’t be like that. I didn’t mean anything,” says Emma, leaning forward and squeezing Regina’s hand. “It was worth it now I’ve got here.”

Regina doesn’t know what to say to that, either, but she gives a polite smile and says thank you. Then she thinks of something else and gives Emma a sidelong look. “And – and my father? Daddy?” She can’t help using the childish term in her distress.

“I’m so sorry,” says Emma again. All she can do is to look as sympathetic as she can manage. “If it’s any comfort, I heard he never stopped looking, either.”

It hurts too much to be a comfort now, but maybe it will be one day, Regina thinks bitterly, and struggles not to cry. Her mother, father, Daniel, all gone and probably forgotten by now. She wipes her eyes, and breathes in and out, and wins the fight against tears.

“We should probably leave,” says Emma. “I’m not sure this place is safe any more, not now the spell’s broken.”

Regina takes in her surroundings for the first time: she’s sitting on a cushion on a long raised stone, in a tower. There are curtains hung around, faded and worn at the edges now, but she recognises her mother’s style.

“Come on,” Emma says, and holds out her hand to Regina.

Regina wants to stand unaided, so she swings herself round and off the stone, but she’s been lying there for too long, and she falls, but Emma’s there to take hold of her. Regina colours again, furious at herself for the weakness.

“Can you walk?” Emma asks in concern.

Regina’s still angry with herself. “I’ll be fine. Lead the way.” She’s a little unsteady, but there are some things to be said for magic after all – she’s finding her legs again already.

They hurry down the spiral staircase, Emma first, holding her hand again, and pulling Regina after. The tower isn’t as stable as it should be any more. Stones drop out of the walls as they make their way down. At the bottom, Emma moves to drag Regina out into the sunlight, but Regina pulls her back sharply, in time to save her from more falling masonry.

“Thanks,” says Emma, staring at the fallen rubble in shock. Then she turns and grips Regina’s hand harder. “Come on – we’d better run for it!”

They race across the courtyard, Regina out of breath but letting Emma pull her on – staying here clearly isn’t a plan – until they reach the relative safety of the forest, and laugh aloud in relief, holding onto each other.”

 

Later, Regina remembers to ask the thing she’s most curious about. “You said your mother had been trying to find me. I don’t understand. Who is she? Do I know her?”

“Well, she’s the queen now,” says Emma, “but she says she knew you when she was just a little girl –”

Regina understands before Emma finishes, and the shock of it robs her of breath. The old anger and hate from years ago merge with the nightmares of the sleeping curse. “Snow.”

“Yes,” says Emma, and gives her a wary look, which makes Regina realise that her reaction must have been too plain.

Regina forces a smile. “I’m sorry. It was just the surprise. If it’s been so long I wouldn’t have thought she’d have even remembered me. She was so young.”

“She said,” Emma continues, “that she owed it to you. She said you saved her life when you met. She said she made a terrible mistake, too and that finding you was the least she could do to repay you.”

It’s not knowledge that Regina knows what to do with, not yet. She still hates Snow, or she thinks she does, but she can’t deny that what Snow and her daughter have done in finding her is more than anyone else has been willing to do for her. It’s horribly confusing. She asks something more practical instead: “But now – where do I go? What do I do?”

“Home with me,” says Emma, as if it’s obvious. She gives Regina another smile. “Mother wants to see you. You don’t have to stay. Once we’re there you can choose what you want to do.”

That’s not something anyone has ever offered Regina before, either.

 

Regina wakes up from a nightmare again, flames in her head. This keeps happening. She woke several times on the previous night and disturbed Emma by screaming. This time at least Emma is still asleep. Regina sits up, curling her knees in against her, and watches Emma.

There’s a sheathed dagger on the ground beside her. Emma gave it to her yesterday, in case she might need it to defend herself. Regina puts her hand over it where it lies, and thinks that she could, if she chose, be perfectly revenged on Snow right now. What could be more apt than to rob her of someone she loves more than anything? And here Regina is, alone in the night with Snow’s firstborn child.

Almost unconsciously, she closes her fingers around the weapon and holds her breath. No one else even knows she’s been broken out of her long sleep.

It’s almost like another dream: she holds in her hands not a knife but two futures: revenge and justice on the one side, and on the other a new life, free from the restraints of the old.

Regina’s holding the hilt of the dagger so tightly it’s imprinted into her palm in an ugly red pattern.

The moment passes, and she drops the knife in horror. Why would she think such a thing? Regina may hate Snow for what the girl did, but she’s not a murderer; she’s never killed anyone, unlike her mother – and unlike Snow, however inadvertently. And maybe if it was Snow here, maybe that would be a different thing, but it isn’t, it’s Emma, who came all this way to find her.

She fears suddenly that she can never escape her mother; that what Cora is and was is lurking somewhere Regina didn’t expect: inside her. Regina gets to her feet, because one thing is clear – it’s not a good idea for her to stay with Emma if that’s true.

 

Regina climbs up a rocky outcrop, hoping for a better view. If she can only see a village, she can aim for that – but all she sees below are more trees. The forest seems to stretch on forever.

It’s no use, she concludes with impatience, and makes her way back down carefully. It would be a whole lot easier if she had practical clothes like Emma’s and not the expensive, elaborate gown Cora thought was appropriate for cursing her daughter in.

“Regina!”

It’s Emma. Regina twists her head around to look down and sees her waiting, just below. She should be annoyed, but she’s not. Regina lets herself drop the last yard or so, landing in a white and silver sequined heap on the ground beside Emma.

“What were you thinking?” said Emma, helping her up, and holding onto her, as if to steady her, though that’s unnecessary now. “You vanished. I thought something had taken you!”

Regina leans back against the rock, not attempting to move away. “I’m sorry,” she says, realising she can’t explain. “I was only thinking – I don’t know – it’ll be awkward.” Which is an understatement. Or maybe it’s not. Sometimes it feels as if it’s been twice forty years and she can barely remember what happened before the spell.

Emma moves one hand to her arm, a strengthening gesture, the other she lets fall lightly to Regina’s waist. Regina pretends she isn’t aware of that, but she is, very much so.

“You have no idea,” says Emma, amused, “how much my mother wants to see you. Trust me.”

Regina bites back her instinctive reaction to that: that it’s all very well for Snow, but what if Regina doesn’t want to see her again no matter how long it’s been?

“Regina?”

She debates whether or not to try and explain, but she doesn’t want to turn her only friend against her.

“Look,” says Emma, “my mother said something bad happened. Is it that? That’s what’s awkward?”

Awkward, thinks Regina, finding it ironic. Yes, it is an understatement, but it was her word for it, not Emma’s. “Something like that.”

“Well, you really don’t have to stay with us,” says Emma.

Regina feels a contrary stab of disappointment. Of course, Emma was running an errand for Snow, that’s all. Regina is merely the package to be delivered safely. Nothing more than that. She should have known.

“I was hoping you might, though,” Emma adds.

Regina gives a slow smile. “Maybe,” she says. “Anyway, you seem to keep finding me.”

“Finding people is something our family’s good at,” says Emma, and grins at her, as if it’s a joke, one that Regina doesn’t understand yet. “You just took a bit longer than most.”

Regina’s beginning to have revolutionary thoughts: that maybe there is more than one way to steal a heart, maybe even that True Love isn’t something that only comes once in a lifetime, and if that’s so, perhaps she does need to see this through and find out what her choices are. After all, she knows already that hate is only what you fall back on when you’re robbed of love.

Emma seems suddenly to realise she’s still holding onto Regina, and she lets go. “Sorry.”

Regina’s fought for love before, and lost. She wonders if she can do it again; if this time she can win. She feels as if she can. She raises her head fractionally, the light of challenge in her eyes as she looks straight at Emma. “Don’t be,” she says, with an amused quirk of her mouth.

And since everyone knows no curse can be truly broken without a kiss, Emma obliges. It is, after all, long overdue.